Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Makoni Emerges as Potential Kingmaker

Calling the ex-finance minister a “prostitute” and a “frog” is unlikely to encourage him to back another candidate if the vote goes to a second round.
By Joseph Sithole
Presidential hopeful Simba Makoni has provoked the anger of both front-runners in Zimbabwe’s upcoming election - opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai as well as incumbent Robert Mugabe.



However, political analysts are warning that while Makoni’s rivals may have their swords out for him at the moment, he might turn out to be the kingmaker if the presidential ballot on March 29 is inconclusive and a run-off has to be held.



Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who leads the bigger of two factions of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, see Makoni, who only announced his intention to enter the presidential race on February 5, as a rank outsider who plans to grab their votes. There are fears on both sides of the political divide that Makoni could appeal to voters in both urban and rural areas, something neither of their candidates is confident of doing.



Tsvangirai’s MDC enjoys its strongest following in poor urban areas, while Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party holds sway mainly in rural areas where a sizeable population, including war veterans, police and army personnel, were given free land under Mugabe’s chaotic land reform programme launched in 2000.



Mugabe accuses Makoni of being a “traitor”, “sellout”, a “prostitute” and a puffed-up “frog” for leaving the ruling party at a critical moment ahead of joint presidential, parliamentary and local elections.



Tsvangirai has laid two apparently contradictory charges against Makoni, accusing him variously of being a Mugabe plant designed to confuse and split the opposition electorate, or of being supported by western powers opposed to his MDC party.



The irony of the latter allegation is that Tsvangirai himself has always been accused by Mugabe of being a puppet of Britain and other western powers in pursuit of regime change in Zimbabwe.



Makoni has rejected the allegations made by both camps, without responding in kind.



As the third force in this election, Makoni combines a long history as a government technocrat and ZANU-PF member with a degree of credibility derived from his reputation for being both competent and uncorrupt. However, despite his appeal to many in the political classes who want change, Makoni has not yet built up a substantial power-base of his own.



A political observer who did not want to be named noted that Makoni appealed to moderates from both ZANU-PF and the MDC, and had refrained from attacking either side.



“They believed they had their strategies worked out, then Makoni walks in unannounced and upsets the apple cart, as it were,” he said.



The observer said Makoni’s main problem was that by launching his bid only in February, “he came in too late”, and fewer major politicians than expected had voiced public support for him.



“It is unlikely now that his backers will come out this late,” said the commentator. “In any case, even if they did, many people have already made up their minds and you would need a miracle to sway them now.”



This commentator predicted that Tsvangirai would win, with Mugabe second and Makoni trailing in third place.



“For all practical purposes, the presidential race is between Tsvangirai and Mugabe, and short of serious electoral irregularities, Tsvangirai is likely to come out victorious,” he said.



However, another analyst forecast that Makoni could play a crucial role even in third place.



“My assessment is that Makoni will come out third in the elections,” said Eldred Masunungure, a lecturer in political sciences at the University of Zimbabwe. “The real race is between Mugabe and Tsvangirai. They both have appeal, parties and a solid infrastructure for their campaigns, all of which Makoni does not enjoy.”



Yet, Masunungure said, Makoni could still draw off support from the disillusioned supporters of both ZANU-PF and the MDC.



“This should help explain the anger of both Tsvangirai and Mugabe at Makoni’s sudden entry into the race, which has obviously badly upset their campaign strategies,” he said.



The analyst warned that expressions of hostility could prove short-sighted for both main candidates.



“What they should not forget is that they might need Makoni when it matters most, in the event that none of them gets more than 50 per cent of the vote as required by law,” he said, adding that he thought it unlikely any candidate would win the absolute majority needed to obviate a run-off between the two leading contenders.



“That is where Makoni’s vote becomes decisive. He becomes the kingmaker because both candidates will then depend for their fortunes on whom Makoni chooses to throw in his lot with,” he said.



In making that choice, Makoni might be swayed by the level of abuse he received from either side, said Masunungure.



“This is where these gratuitous insults become counterproductive, as they might influence Makoni’s decision,” he explained. “Politically they [insults] may not matter, but they affect the way you relate. You don’t want to work with someone who calls you a prostitute or a frog, who denigrates you as a foreign imposition, implying that you can’t think for yourself.”



Joseph Sithole is the pseudonym of a reporter in Zimbabwe.

More IWPR's Global Voices